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Wins award in the Asia Pacific Region
By Aisha Nazim
The Immigration and Emigration Department has stood by its assurance to provide a hassle-free and efficient service to potential visitors to Sri Lanka, as is proved by Sri Lanka winning the best e-government award in the Asia Pacific Region in Thailand last week.
In an attempt to boost Sri Lanka’s tourism and the efficiency of the Sri Lankan Immigration and Emigration Department, fully automated online visa systems were introduced into the country from the beginning of this year. Being linked with Interpol, also provides maximum security, as the authorities are able to check up on the security status of each individual, who attempts to enter the country.
The online visa system issues short term visas for prospective visitors, and is also open to applicants of all countries, unlike most other countries, which limit the number and nationality of online visa applicants.
Speaking to Ceylon Today, Immigration and Emigration Department Controller IT and Board of Management, Nihal Ranasinghe, said the Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) was planned during the whole of 2011, and the project was completed and put into effect by January 2012.
The electronic visa system makes travel to Sri Lanka easier, as there are only around 57 places around the world, where Sri Lankan visas are issued, out of the 193 member states of the United Nations (UN); thereby making access to Sri Lanka possible for people, who do not have easy access to embassies to apply for visas.
“We charge a processing fee of US$ 20, but only US$ 10 for citizens from the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). In addition to getting visas online, there are many other options by which visas could be obtained; one is for the applicant to visit the embassy, and another is to get it from the visa counter from the airport in Sri Lanka. However, the online applications are the easiest, as there is no hassle at all,” Ranasinghe said.
Best e-government system
Talking about the probable reasons for Sri Lanka’s e-government system to be the best, Ranasinghe stated that it was probably due to the fact that Sri Lanka’s online visa applications were unrestricted to anyone in the international community, whereas most of the other systems were domestic systems that did not involve outsiders.
In addition, Lanka’s Centre for Cyber Security and the apex body, which certifies any IT automated system, the Sri Lanka Computer Emergency Room Readiness Team (SL CERT) has certified the ETA system to world security standards, he added.
“We will have records of the passengers, which can be checked at the airport at any time, and see if they have a travel advisory against them or not. From this we will be able to judge if they are desirable or not, and if they have criminal records. And as the whole system is automated, it will be extremely efficient and hassle free. Manual interference is minimal and clearance time will also be minimal,” Ranasinghe further said.
According to the ETA website, the online visa is valid for only 30 days from the date of arrival, but can be extended for up to six months if required. The submissions can be made by the applicant himself, by a third party member, by registered agents, the Department of Immigration and Emigration in Colombo, or on arrival at Sri Lanka. ETAs are issued for tourist and business purposes for a period of 30 days, while a transit visa can be obtained for seven days. However, Singaporean and Maldivian Nationals, and children below 12 years of age are exempted from applying for the ETA and paying the fees.
Meanwhile, the ETA provides an online link to INTERPOL. The INTERPOL Database Services was integrated with the Sri Lanka Immigration Border Control System by the Defence Secretary in June 2011.
The Head of e-Attorney Solutions, V. Manoharan of Informatics Holdings Limited (IHL), which is providing the IT solutions for the Immigration and Emigration Department told Ceylon Today there are two ways to link up with Interpol-online and offline. Sri Lanka is one of the few countries in the world that is linked online, he said.
“Interpol provides us with their services when we link up with them. Through that, we check if each passenger is on the International Wanted List. It’s also used for checking up against stolen and lost travel documents. When we come across such an offender, either a wanted person or a person who holds stolen documents, we refer them to the Interpol National Central Bureau in Colombo,” Manoharan elaborated. Recently, Informatics had signed a contract with the Department of Immigration of the Fiji Islands to provide an effective border control system.
Sri Lanka is the seventh country in the world to have the ETA system. Other countries that provide online visa applications include the United Kingdom, the USA, Australia and Bahrain. Nevertheless, the scale of access is limited to those countries, International Organization for Migration and Head of Migration, Shantha Kulasekara said.
“The ETA is the same, but it has limited access. For example, Australia has ETA, but Sri Lankans cannot apply for it.
There are rules and regulations, and they take risk analysis into consideration,” he explained. Applicants can be categorized as low risk, medium risk, high risk, or no risk, he added.
However, though Sri Lanka does not limit certain nationalities from applying for visas through the online system, there are rules, regulations and risk analysis, followed by the automated systems here, before applicants are granted visas, he said.
Original Article : http://www.ceylontoday.lk/59-15127-news-detail-sri-lankas-e-government-system-the-best.html#prettyPhoto